May 29—Audra Nissen Boyer, Mankato Public Schools Community Education director, began her career in social work and said that background steered her throughout her career.
“While I’m no longer a practicing social worker, it is the lens through which I continue to do everything,” she said.
“Being an educational leader in a Community Education role is really, in my opinion, macro social work. It’s working with the community to address local issues.”
Nissen Boyer is considered a leader throughout the state, with other community education directors looking to her for guidance. She oversees a program that offers community programs and services to people from birth to adult, including baby classes, pregnancy classes and parent-only classes, among myriad other programs.
“One thing I would say about Audra’s leadership at Community Education is she has a very steady hand and is able to get the very best out of the people who work with her,” school district Supt. Paul Peterson.
“A real team approach that, of course, is a huge asset when you’re working through some really challenging situations.
“She’s assembled quite a team over there at Community Education. And her leadership fingerprints are all over those people. They continue to work through the last phases of the pandemic. Audra’s leadership has been very important to help that group get through what’s been a very difficult time.”
In the earliest days of the pandemic, emergency child care was required in school districts. The planning and execution of that plan fell to Community Ed, Peterson said.
Community Ed took its ACES, a year-round school-age childcare program, model and modified it, with Nissen Boyer being “again quick on her feet,” Peterson said, “thinking through how to make that plan work for staff and families in need so that child care was available for essential workers. It had to come together quickly.”
Nissen Boyer is in her 10th year at Mankato Public Schools, and prior to that held the same role at Waseca Public Schools. In Mankato, she oversees a department budget of $6.5 million.
She said every single day of the week, and every season of the year, her job is different.
“We work with a multitude of stakeholders to meet the unique needs of our community,” she said. “What I get to do in Mankato is very different from what my peer in St. Peter gets to do. And I think that’s the best part of the job.”
Nissen Boyer said her biggest workplace challenge is securing and retaining staff, and a continual challenge is discovering new and innovative ways to authentically engage the community.
“It gets more and more difficult as people get siloed,” she said. “The challenge is discovering ways to really seek out community members to get them involved with activities, or on the opposite side of that, to create activities that people want to get involved with.”
Asked why Nissen Boyer is deserving of accolades, the responses roll in from her staff, peers and community stakeholders.
Jim Roy, chairperson of the Community Education Advisory Board, said: “Audra continues to adapt the Community Education programs to include and meet the needs of children, families and adults in our community. She works to partner with people and other community organizations to help achieve Community Education goals.”
Melanie Schmidt, Community Education youth development program coordinator, said Nissen Boyer is a “tireless champion of inclusion and assuring all students and families have a space where they belong and their learning goals supported. She is dedicated to Community Education being a positive influence on a child’s learning and development.”
Nissen Boyer is driven by the people her department serves and aspires to serve, said Sam Schirmers, ACES program director. “She inspires her team to think creatively and collaboratively within the department, the district and the community. She is a champion for underserved communities and is skilled at building meaningful partnerships.”
Always at the center of Nissen Boyer’s mind when making decisions and developing programming are the needs and best interests of the community.
“Audra is a selfless leader who puts the needs of the community and her team at the forefront,” said Katie Gag, assistant director of early learning for Mankato Area Public Schools.
“She is very intentional in designing spaces, communication and programming that is accessible to all and creates a space where people of all backgrounds and cultures feel accepted and welcome.”